MGS4 and The Three Flavours of Filler

August 2nd, 2008

metal gear solid artwork

Wow! I’ve been going a little crazy when it comes to writing about games lately and have about a months worth of pre-written articles in the bank! As you can imagine isn’t a common scenario for me which is why the following article is even more of an embarrassment.

Recently Michael Abbott of Brainy Gamer fame wrote up a second round of Metal Gear Solid 4 commentaries after being prompted by questions from another blogger Steve Gaynor. I too had a few things to say about the game and had infact said some of them already in one of those pre-written articles, waiting to be posted on the site. It was as I was writing up my comments over at his blog that my creative juices took over and a selection of great ideas sparked, refining my original concept. In the end I was so pleased with my conclusion that after much moral dilemma I decided that it’d just be best if I post all of my thoughts here as they were far too developed to remain as a single comment. I am indeed an embarrassment.

You can read Michael’s post here. My comments are a bit messy but I’m sure you’ll get through, there are, of course, spoilers but no deal-breakers;

“This game feels beyond me as well. I have a round of already written after-thoughts being put up on my blog soon but even now I still have trouble understanding this game.

I don’t think that MGS4’s problem stems from being over hyped or a fan-service for that matter. I’m a huge fan of the series and didn’t experience any of this. Regarding the hype, was there much ‘buzz‘ for the game at all? As I don’t remember there being much at the time, infact I remember being disheartened by the lack of.

Commentators of the series often bind together the convoluted story and length of the cutscenes, concluding that one results in the other. As someone that throws himself at the MGS lore and understands the series timeline, it must be said that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

MGS and MGS3 both managed to tell the best stories in the series by keeping things in perspective. Cutscenes were used as rewards after long amounts of play or hard work, or to convey important sequences that gameplay could not. The political messages and themes kept to a minimum, subtle during the game, effective after the conclusion. It felt the way that a movie-inspired game should.

In MGS4 though cutscenes destroy the game and it’s not just the length. There are too many of them, too often they take the controller away from you and only a few of them advance the story. So what’s in these cutscenes? Filler, that even within the context of the MGS series is rubbish. MGS2 had the same issues though so I guess you’d say that its become normal, although MGS4 takes this to an unhealthy extreme.

This filler can be divided into pure filler, technical filler and political filler. The pure filler is just the plain artbitary stuff such as Raiden and Rosemary’s relationship (namely in MGS2), technical filler are the ramblings regarding “the system” (philosophical talk in MGS2) and political filler would be the war economy and war trauma (digital information in MGS2).

I admire this series for pushing political themes and message, no one should hold that against the series. The Metal Gear series can and have got the political implementation right before. Nuclear warheads, genetics and identity were handled well in Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear II’s intriguing use of war orphans, Gronin handing down the original Metal Gear documentation to Hal Emmerick’s grandfather cuts deep with lessons of consequence, to list a few. With this though we need to draw the line between what was well executed and what is rammed down your throat. The previous examples were well executed, war economy and trauma were mostly not. Although, even in MGS4 there are examples of this done right.

I sense that you reason for completing the game came from a longing for games to be more than the toys that they are largely portrayed as, with a game of this caliber providing the possibility. Unfortunately we got the throat ramming.

There are other facets to the story which are also done well such as Naomi and Hal’s relationship being explored and the role of Sunny. The action sequences are nice as well, although the chase scenes are basically cutscenes with inputs. Weigh this against the filler though and there is no way that they can survive. And with all that in mind, less than 2hrs of MGS4’s cutscene and codec actually advance the series’ story so to reinforce my point the blame cannot be labelled at the story. It’s easy to see why it is though.

In the gameplay sense, MGS4 is amazing versatile adapting different styles of the genre together in a seamless fashion. Because of the invasion of cutscenes though, you could also say that Snake has more gameplay mechanics and tools at his disposal than content to learn, use and master them with.

What boggles me most of all is why? Why are the odd numbered MGS games perfectly formed while the evens a bloated mess? MGS and MGS3 were well within logic, pushes some messages and had the gameplay in check. This would be where my lack of understanding becomes too much.”

I adore this series and am obviously resistant to calling MGS4 a failure. I don’t need to though as the good is worth discussion and has merit worthy of great praise something that remains under-realized in the current gaming habitat. Maybe I’ll explore this next.”

I guess this means I’ll be posting up that other article next time. ^_^